Porter stared at the strange girl who had so tidily taken control of their lives – Arundel’s more than his, certainly, but still. Then it hit him. “Right. Come on, Arun.” He dropped to his knees and got a shoulder under his friend’s arm. “Stand up, that’s it.”
“Ow,” Arundel complained weakly.
“Yeah, I know. Those look like they’re gonna hurt worse than a tail and my ears did. But you gotta stand up.”
“Stand up,” Sylvia echoed, and with a muffled whimper, Arundel made it to his feet. “That’s better.” She slid herself under his other arm. “Porter and I will get you there. I’ll take care of you.” She opened her door and they edged, carefully, through it. “Do you know any combat magic, tiger?”
“Um. I can aba… destroy stuff, but that’s about it. We’ve only barely begun to learn anything useful.”
“Pity. Well. Look fierce if anyone tries to stop us, then, how about that?”
Her tone made Porter bristle, even as he helped Arundel down the hall as gently as he could. “Who do you think you are, to boss me around like this?”
“Well,” she answered, maddeningly calmly, “I believe I’m the person who just Kept your friend. And while you’re under no obligation to do as I say, of course, he is, and, furthermore, I am only taking charge to keep you and he – and myself – safe, so it’s safe to believe that my ‘bossing’ is in your best interest.”
“Seems to me,” he grumbled, “that the only person I can trust to act in my best interests around here is myself. Come on, man, it’s not that much further.”
“Yourself, and your crew,” she agreed placidly. “Which, you may have noticed, we agreed to be.”
“Mmm,” he muttered, focusing on Arundel’s pained footsteps. “So you get a Kept out of this. I get to keep hanging out with my friend. Arundel gets…”
“A benevolent Keeper, the continued companionship of his friend, and my assurance that I’ll do my best to keep you, in turn, from being Kept. I also get your protection, once the two of you learn to fight. In other words, we become a small consortium of watching each others’ backs.” She smiled, a small, tight thing, as they reached Dr. Caitrin’s office. “If we end up liking each other, that will be a pleasant bonus. You two seem like people I might be able to like, and there have been precious few of those so far in Addergoole.”
“I could like you,” Arundel muttered. He was twisting in their arms, trying to arch his back. “But that could be the Keeping thingy.”
“Probably,” she agreed, the smile barely shifting. “I’m told I’m not, generally, all that likable.”
“That’s sad,” he frowned. “Porter will like you, too, won’t you, Port?”
Porter, sighing, forced himself to calm down, the fur on his neck and tail slowly settling. “If you want me to like her, buddy, I will. What are friends for, anyway?”
He met Sylvia’s gaze as they maneuvered his semi-delirious friend into the exam room. From the look in her eyes, she knew as well as he did that it would be a longer process than that. But they would both make the effort. That was, as he’d said, what crew was for.
It seemed she had a very specific, very close interpretation of “crew,” which Porter couldn’t really object to. Arundel was hardly standing again, swaying a bit with the effects of the little blue pills, when Sylvia dragged them to the Director’s secretary’s office.
“We need a three-room suite. I know one’s opened up recently.”
The woman looked over her glasses at Sylvia, clearly less impressed with her preemptory manner than Porter and Arundel were. “You do, hrrm? Didn’t I hear that Arundel was now oro’Sylvia?”
“Well, yes,” she answered easily, “but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need a three-room suite.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Will I need to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mendosa?” she asked quietly, but with clear, if entirely vague, threat.
“I believe we’ll be just fine. But a three-bedroom suite will give us all a little more breathing room, and that would be a very good thing,” Sylvia said very precisely.
The woman frowned, but nodded. “Very well. Since Professor Pelletier had suggested we hold this suite, I’m going to assume this is why. You can move in today.”
“Just like that?” Porter couldn’t help but ask. Why Professor Pelletier?
“When the psychic deems something,” Sylvia murmurs, “this Administration listens. It’s one of the advantages of this school.”
Porter, who had heard plenty of the disadvantages, listened with curiosity. “So. Arundel’s moving in with you, and you want me to move in with you, too?” The three-bedrooms thing was, he had to admit, strange, at least from what he’d heard.
“You want to spend time with your friend, don’t you? And we’re crew now, aren’t we?”
He had a feeling he was going to hear that argument a lot. “All right,” he muttered. He wasn’t all that attached to his room, anyway.
Later, with all their things carted into the suite and generally distributed between the three rooms, Sylvia declared that, now that they had a kitchen, she was going to do some real shopping.
“Stay in the suite,” she ordered Arundel, after having taken a close look at his eyes. “I shouldn’t be more than hour; if I’m longer than that, you may come looking for me.”
He mumbled something uncomfortable, and waited until she left to flop face-first onto the couch. “Shit.”
Porter flopped down in the armchair. “It could be worse?” he offered. “I mean, you have wings.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty awesome,” he admitted, twisting to look at the feathers, which coordinated with his hair nicely. “But … Sylvia.”
“Well, you said yes?” Porter pointed out, mostly to avoid the stab of guilt he felt. “I’m sorry about the doorway thing, man.”
“The porthole? I figured that was you. Though the rest was a bit of a surprise.”
“She promised she’d be good to you.” For some definition of “good,” he supposed. “Why did you say yes?”
“I wasn’t paying attention!” he shouted, and then put both hands over his head. “Ow. It’s like she planned this all out. And that’s impossible.”
“Well, think about what she said about psychics?” He wasn’t sure that was right, but it was an option. “Maybe she really did plan it out.”
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